Pompeo in Lebanon warns of Hezbollah’s ‘destabilising activities’

Beirut: Top US diplomat Mike Pompeo warned on Friday of Shiite militant group Hezbollah’s “destabilising activities” as he visited Lebanon on a regional tour to build a united front against Iran.

He flew in from Israel a day after he became the first high-ranking American official to visit the Western Wall in annexed east Jerusalem with an Israeli prime minister.

His visit also came just hours after US President Donald Trump said Washington should recognise Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights, breaking with the policy of successive administrations as well as UN Security Council resolutions.

In a meeting with parliament speaker Nabih Berri, who is himself a Shiite, Pompeo warned of the “destabilising activities” in the region of Hezbollah, an Iran-backed group that is targeted by US sanctions but holds three cabinet posts in Lebanon.

“He highlighted US concerns about Hezbollah’s destabilising activities in Lebanon and the region and the risks posed to Lebanon’s security, stability and prosperity,” US deputy spokesman Robert Palladino said.

Hezbollah fighters have backed government forces in neighbouring Syria in the civil war that broke out in 2011.

Pompeo and Berri also discussed “the need to maintain calm along the boundary between Lebanon and Israel”, Palladino said.

Lebanon and its southern neighbour Israel are still technically at war, even after Israeli troops withdrew from the south of the country in 2000.

Israel and Hezbollah fought a devastating month-long war in 2006, and skirmishes still erupt along a UN-patrolled demarcation line.

The secretary of state also met Prime Minister Saad Hariri to discuss “the importance of the US-Lebanese security partnership and the need for continued support for Lebanon’s legitimate state security institutions, particularly the Lebanese Armed Forces,” Palladino said.

Pompeo “commended the Lebanese people for hosting more than one million Syrian refugees”.

The secretary of state, who is expected to leave Lebanon on Saturday, later held talks with President Michel Aoun.

In a meeting earlier with Interior Minister Raya al-Hassan, Pompeo “discussed regional and internal security challenges facing Lebanon and how the United States can help support the interior ministry’s efforts”.

Hassan became the first woman interior minister in Lebanon and the Middle East in a cabinet line-up unveiled in late January following an eight-month delay.

The United States has branded Hezbollah, the only group in Lebanon that has not disarmed since its 1975-1990 civil war, a “terrorist” organisation and targeted it with tough sanctions.

Hezbollah’s Sheikh Ali Damush on Friday questioned the timing and purpose of Pompeo’s visit.

“What are the Lebanese expecting from America and its foreign minister after these two announcements that are totally biased in favour of Israel, except for inciting (Hezbollah) and turning Lebanese against each other?” he asked in his Friday sermon.